It’s finally here. On October 8, 2021, D&D released the Travelers of the Multiverse Unearthed Arcana (UA), heralding the long (and often humorously) anticipated Spelljammer setting’s arrival in 5th Edition D&D. This UA features six new ancestries for D&D 5e:
- Astral Elf
Let’s focus on Spelljammer’s hipponynmous creature: the Giff.
Giff, the famous bipedal hippo race, hail from Spelljammer. The Giff’s first 5e appearance was in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (MTF) as a monster. MTF’s entry emphasized the Giff’s role as a mercenary military culture, with a penchant for gunpowder and a distaste for magic:
It’s not just flavor text–MTF’s mechanics enforce Giff’s cultural association with modern warfare. They have a musket and a pistol, supplemented by a 1/day grenade. Giff features drive this further, allowing them to ignore weapon loading due to firearms knowledge, and granting multiattack for their pistol (but not longsword).
The New Giff
The Giff have received a significant revamp in October 2021’s Unearthed Arcana when released as a playable race.
Some folk’s initial impression is that the Giff needs more. Why is that?
The Unearthed Arcana Giff race is light on features. Once you get past the mandatory type, size, and speed, there’s only two features. And one of them only works in melee!
But, does that make it underpowered?
Giff features are stacked in a way that hides their real value.
Swim Speed. While real hippos can’t swim, they can run quickly under water. Giff’s swim speed is hidden inside their general speed mechanic. This is the type of ribbon mechanic that becomes incredibly powerful in the right campaign. This feature’s top-end value could be tempered with a realistic flavor update limiting the effect to pools of a certain depth. Though, for reasons we’re about to explain, your Giff is unlikely to ever fall off the boat!
Build on Build. While it’s easy to gloss over a “build” mechanic and assume that it does the Goliath’s ribbon ability of doubling the oft-ignored encumbrance threshold, this is so much more. Hippo Build gives you advantage on every Strength check and save. Holy hippo! This makes the Giff a great ship’s captain, since they’re unlikely to be shaken from the helm (or off the boat).
While the Giff’s stat block is deceptively short, it packs a ton of punch in its relatively few features.
So, if the Giff isn’t light on features…what’s missing?
Give Giff Guns
Guns! Giff need guns! It’s in their picture. It’s in their monster block.
Melee. The UA Giff’s Damage Dealer feature makes it a proverbial
bull in the china shop hippo in a crystal shop. While this leans into a hippo’s brutish nature, it doesn’t comport with the Giff’s unrefined technological penchant for black powder firearms and explosives. Though the MTF Giff sports Headfirst Charge to emphasize their physicality, melee is not the key component of their presentation.
Ranged. The MTF Giff’s Firearms Knowledge, Musket, Pistol, and Fragmentation Grenade are emulated nowhere in the UA Giff’s stat block. While such item-driven features make less sense on a player character, proficiency (and Firearms Knoweldge’s no-load buff) present options to drive the blackpowder loving flavor of Giff.
No Gun Settings?
WotC has been reluctant to “bite the bullet” and print a 5e player option with firearm proficiency. While plenty of DMs like running campaigns without firearms, a creature whose identity is so intrinsically tied to firearms warrants giving them firearm proficiency.
If the setting has guns, it’s OK to don the ancestries in that setting with gun proficiency.
Sidebars can permit an exception for DMs who don’t want firearms, while allowing Giff in their settings. An easy swap is to allow crossbow proficiency as a swap for firearm proficiency.
So, give Giff guns! Even if it takes a short sidebar to assuage DMs who don’t want that sort of thing in their setting. Don’t compromise the identity of Spelljammer’s hipponymous race to conform to settings where they don’t exist.
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